In spite of a normal pacemaker function, syncope still occurs in some patients with sick sinus syndrome (SSS). Causes often remain unknown. To identify predictors and etiologies of this bothersome symptom, we studied 507 patients who received atrial, ventricular, and dual-chamber pacemakers for SSS. During a mean follow-up of 62 +/- 38 months, actuarial incidence of syncope was 3% at 1 year, 8% at 5 years, and 13% at 10 years. Causes were vasovagal (18%), orthostatic hypotension (25.5%), rapid atrial tachyarrhythmias (11.5%), ventricular tachycardia (5%), acute myocardial ischemia (2.5%), and pacemaker/lead malfunction (6.5%). In 13 patients (29.5%), syncope remained unexplained. The only preimplant predictor for syncope was syncope as primary indication for pacemaker implant. Electrocardiographic correlation with bradycardia was not a predictor of relief of syncope during the follow-up.
In conclusion: (1) syncope in paced patients with SSS has multiple etiologies and may be multifactorial; (2) the only predictor of syncope after pacemaker implant is the occurrence of preimplant syncope as the main indication for pacing; (3) extensive Holter monitoring is not useful to document bradycardiac origin of syncope nor to predict its recurrence; (4) SSS probably overlaps with other entities such as autonomic dysfunction, vasovagal syncope, carotid sinus hypersensitivity, and venous pooling, which would provide an explanation for recurrent syncope in patients with normal pacemaker function.